Agencies’ Projects Threatened by Freeze

Posted April 9, 2004 at 4:40pm

An anticipated freeze in the legislative branch budget for fiscal 2005 could lead to major delays for new projects requested by the Library of Congress and the Capitol Police, according to Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman.

The AOC told Senate appropriators on Thursday that any new projects included in the agency’s $585 million budget request — a 41 percent hike over fiscal 2004 — would be put off if the proposed appropriations increase is not met.

“New capital projects requested by our clients which are valid and important … would have to be deferred if we in fact were left at [fiscal] ’04 levels” Hantman said at an Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch hearing.

Among the major new initiatives outlined in Hantman’s testimony are $59.2 million for construction of the Library’s Copyright Deposit Facility; $39.5 million for Library storage facilities in Fort Meade, Md.; $18.4 million for Capitol Police storage and office facilities; and an additional $18.4 million for a Capitol Police firing range and off-site delivery facility.

Hantman’s statement came in response to an inquiry from Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), who chairs the subcommittee and has asked all legislative branch agencies to consider possible reductions in their budget requests.

“The number of projects and dollar value associated within will be very difficult to accommodate not only in view of budgetary restraints but also owing to concerns that you have a lot on your plate already, not the least of which is completion of the Capitol Visitor Center,” Campbell said at the hearing’s outset.

During the hearing Hantman noted that construction of the 580,000-square-foot subterranean structure, now slated to open to the public in spring 2006, is continuing at “a strong pace.”

Hantman said the CVC, originally slatted to open in December 2005, will be completed at a “level sufficient to support inaugural activities” early next year.

“That entails the ability of the [East Front] plaza deck to accommodate a presidential motorcade and, if necessary, the landing of a helicopter on the deck,” Hantman said in his testimony.

Stone masons are expected to begin work on the East Front plaza in May, Hantman said. The workers will begin laying the granite pavers near the Senate steps on the Capitol’s north end.

Additionally, the Architect is seeking $14.5 million in its fiscal 2005 budget for the center’s “start-up” costs.

That figure includes $6.3 million for equipment, supplies, custodial and other services, and $8.2 million for administrative functions, such as “management supporting guide services, visitor services, food services and gift shop services.”

Although the public will not be allowed into the facility until 2006, Congressional staff are expected to begin readying the space in late 2005. An additional 35,000 square feet of House and Senate expansion space on each side of the visitor center is set to be completed by the summer of 2006.

Also during the hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, sought to eliminate any suggestion of creating a new office to manage the facility once it is completed.

“There have been some suggestions the Capitol Visitor Center needs a bureaucracy … and I think that is a very bad idea,” Durbin said. The Illinois lawmaker asserted that a new office would create “another layer of bureaucracy and confusion,” and said the CVC should be administered by the AOC.

Also included in the Architect’s budget proposal are a number “life safety and security” projects, including $20.1 million for sprinkler and smoke detector upgrades in Library of Congress facilities; $1.3 million to renovate Senate office building restrooms; and $1.1 million to install emergency defibrillators in the Capitol complex.

The AOC is also constructing reception areas at the Russell and Dirksen Senate office buildings in an attempt to enhance current security procedures. The new facilities, Hantman explained, will allow law-enforcement officials to screen visitors “outside the structural framework of the building itself.”

Secretary of the Senate Emily Reynolds also attended to the hearing to present her office’s $21.3 million fiscal 2005 budget request.

The majority of those funds — $19.6 million — would go to salary costs. Another $1.7 million would provide operating costs for the Office of the Secretary.

The Secretary’s budget includes a $722,000 increase over the current fiscal year.